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A View from Abroad

BBC reporter Katty Kay’s take on U.S. politics

By Ben L. Kaufman · March 16th, 2010 · News
Katty Kay is a worldly Brit who’s covered our nation for more than a decade, though a “strange duality” continues to puzzle her:

• The more highly respected an American politician is abroad, the more suspect he is at home. President Obama has raised America’s stature overseas but — nuttiness about his birth certificate aside — this reinforces a sense that he’s “somehow foreign.”

• Americans want some kind of health care reform but refuse to learn anything from “socialistic” Europeans who enjoy cheaper, broader health care with equal or better outcomes. “Socialized medicine? No way!” Ironically, it doesn’t matter that those same foreign Lefties consider our clutter of sometimes contradictory reform proposals hopelessly conservative.

Kay, the BBC World News America correspondent in Washington, D.C., explored these contradictions at the national speakers forum of the Cincinnati Woman’s City Club on March 11.

While George W. Bush’s words and actions created “a real worrying wave of anti-Americanism,” Kay said, much of the world welcomed Obama’s election. “We were pretty bored with hating America” and Obama “said all of the right things.”

He is, however, paying the price at home. Obama’s “rock star” success abroad plays badly with anxious, frustrated Americans who interpret loathing for Dubya as evidence that Bush was somehow right.

It’s a measure of how toxic this antipathy can be that it doesn’t matter that Obama has “actually been pretty darn tough in the rest of the world,” Kay said.

And while there is a renewed appreciation of the potential benefits that a “certain amount of diplomacy” might bring, Obama’s gestures to unfriendly nations generate only “distaste” and “populist anger” among some Americans.

Kay predicted that the strange duality would surface when Obama visits his boyhood home in Indonesia.

Much of the world will appreciate his visit to the most populous Muslim country, while many Americans will interpret it as betrayal in the battle against Islamist terrorists. It doesn’t matter that he attended an Indonesian Catholic school as a child, not a radical Islamic madrasa, she said; it was there, not here.

Moving on to the second puzzling duality, Kay said health care is the “defining issue of this administration.” He said Obama is “stuck” until health insurance reform passes.

Failure will reinforce the sense of Obama “not being able to govern,” and his mistaken attempts at bipartisanship haven’t helped. When you control the White House and Congress, “you don’t give the other party a chance.”

Kay blamed the White House for some of its problems, saying overreaching Democrats failed to appreciate the breadth of public concerns beyond health care and failed to communicate what they were doing and why. It began at the top: Obama “is a little bit intellectually arrogant.”

Compounding this top-down problem is American ignorance of how badly their health access and outcomes stack up against other nations. She cited one survey that put the U.S. behind Costa Rica but ahead of Cuba. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

As she travels the United States, Kay said she senses a pervasive gut-level hostility to being measured against other nations and too many Americans seem to live on “another planet” when it comes to health care. The irony is that even the GOP admits the health system is “broken” and bankruptcy is certain if costs rise as they have.

If Obama wins his health care battle in coming days or weeks, she said, another issue will take on greater importance: “Unemployment will decide the election” in November.

Regardless, Kay said one of the great surprises is the “new confidence” shown by the GOP that seemed so shattered a year ago. This Republican resurgence is fueled by ever-increasing and bitter partisanship, she continued. “The political center is really being squeezed out of American politics.”

Kay blamed cable TV and the Internet for much of the breakdown in remaining comity and polarization. A seemingly nonstop “shout fest” on cable TV and Twitter, Facebook and other social media give extremists a “megaphone” that didn’t exist a few years ago. “They are dragging the parties further apart.”

Meanwhile, both parties are trying to understand the anger that sustains the Tea Party. Kay predicted that GOP fear of this new force might push its candidates so far to the political right that it will “damage the party going into 2012.”



03.16.2010 at 04:39 Reply
It's not a surprise our country would be a laughing stock of hypocrisy to other nations. As a country, we have blinders on. The partisan bickering is going to throw us into another civil war. Instead of black and white, it will be red and blue. I think I'd like to sit this one out, thank you.


03.17.2010 at 12:35 Reply
Obama is the worst president in history. He is so pre-occupied with being king of the world and concealing his true identity he cannot focus on leading our nation. Any damage to our image under George W. Bush resulted from the hachet job committed in collusion with the corrupt media by the Democrats. Katty Kay needs to turn off her TV and read something besides the mainstream press. Obama's residence in the White House is a daily reminder of the low level of his character. He admits being a British citizenship at birth which violates the only document that protects the American public from an oppressive government, the U.S. Constitution. Lack of respect for that document is a lack of respect for our rights and for every American citizen. If we stand by doing nothing as our country crumbles, we are equally to blame. Furthermore, it is not just the birth certificate that is being hidden. There are twenty-five other documents being covered up. There is something seriously wrong when anyone goes to the lengths he has to hide every single document that might identify who he actually is. 1 Certified copy of original birth certificate 2 Columbia University transcripts 3 Columbia thesis paper 4 Campaign donor analysis requested by 7 major watchdog groups 5 Harvard University transcripts 6 Illinois State Senate records 7 Illinois State Senate schedule 8 Law practice client list and billing records/summary 9 Locations and names of all half-siblings and step-mother 10 Medical records (only the one page summary released so far) 11 Occidental College Transcripts 12 Parent’s marriage Certificate 13 Record of baptism 14 Selective Service registration records 15 Schedules for trips outside of the United States before 2007 16 Passport records for all passports 17 Scholarly articles 18 SAT and LSAT test scores 19 Access to his grandmother in Kenya 20 List of all campaign workers that are lobbyists 21 Punahou grade school records 22 Noelani Kindergarten records are oddly missing from the the State of Hawaii Department of Education. 23 Page 11 of Stanley Ann Dunham’s divorce decree. 24 Barack Obama's reason for resigning from the Illinois bar in 2002 while being employed in a law firm until 2004. 25 Michelle Obama's reason for resigning from the Illinois bar in 2002 while being employed in a law firm until 2004. To produce these documents would require very little time, but covering them up must be a full time job. Call us what you will, but we deserve a qualified, eligible, and full time leader, especially at this critical time in our history. We deserve to see these documents NOW.


03.27.2010 at 03:39 Reply
It is time that those Americans who are full of self pride and arrogance take a look at facts. Somewhow we behave as if we are best at everything. Yes, we spend more money but what we get in good health care is appalling. It is time we recognize the needs of all our citizens and learn a lesson from other parts of the world. I have challenge our local paper to print in such facts as Katty Kay presented but no, they won't risk losing their conservative or backward subscribers. There is a bumper sticker that I admire on the back of some cars. It says along with the symbols of differing faiths COEXIST. We need to show that we can do this in our own backyard. I come from the wonderful state of Ohio but am determined to find ways to see that we have a better balance of power and wealth in our own backyard. Thank you.